Chilling-induced ultrastructural changes to mesophyll cells of Arabidopsis grown under short days are almost completely reversible by plant re-warming

Nicole G F Vella, Tom V. Joss, Thomas H. Roberts

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Exposure of plants to chilling (low temperatures above freezing) limits growth and development in all environments outside the lowest latitudes. Cell ultrastructure and morphometric studies may allow associations to be made between chilling-induced changes at the ultrastructural level, molecular events and their physiological consequences. We examined changes in the shape, size and membrane organization of the organelles of mesophyll cells in Arabidopsis thaliana (Col 0), a cold-resistant species, after subjecting 6-week-old plants grown at normal growth temperatures to chilling (2. 5-4°C; 14-h dark/10-h light cycle) for 6, 24 and 72 h and after a re-warming period of 50 h. No ultrastructural differences were seen in the first 6 h of chilling but after 24 h we observed swollen and rounded chloroplasts with larger starch grains and dilated thylakoids compared to control plants. By 72 h, chilling had resulted in a large accumulation of starch in chloroplasts, an apparent crowding of the cytosol and a lower abundance of peripheral reticulum than in the controls. The average area per chloroplast in cell sections increased after 72-h chilling while the number of chloroplasts remained the same. Ring-shaped and other morphologically aberrant mitochondria were present in significantly higher abundance in plants given 72 h chilling than in the controls. Plant re-warming for 50 h reduced chloroplast size to those of the controls and returned mitochondria to standard morphology, but peripheral reticulum remained less abundant than in plants never given a cold treatment. The near full return to normal ultrastructure upon plant re-warming indicates that the morphological changes may be part of acclimation to cold.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1149
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012



  • Arabidopsis
  • Chloroplast
  • Mesophyll
  • Mitochondrion
  • Thylakoids
  • Ultrastructure

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